Memories - Emil Ludmer

Pianist, a student of Leningrad Conservatoire during the same years as Hirshhorn

Philippe Hirshhorn was introduced to me in a very enigmatic way, like in a fairy-tale, where those cherished and fiercely beloved personages find a place in our heart from childhood through our entire life.

Indeed, he was introduced to me for the first time from the moment I came to Leningrad in a way which is commonly called in French ‘par oui-dire’ meaning hearsay. People told me he was unique, a one-of-a-kind being, a Genius belonging to a completely unique human species unlike the rest of us.

One day, at a sort of party among new students, all of a sudden I heard the whisperings of my pals:  “Philippe has come, Philippe has come.” A hush abruptly followed. And when I looked at him and he looked at me for the first time straight into my eyes in his own unique way, I said to myself ‘this is exactly him,’ exactly what I had heard from students entering the Conservatory whom I met coming to Leningrad. His eyes glowed like scintillating stars in the sky that we see from time to time on an entirely limpid horizon.

I immediately understood that what I was told before by hearsay was now before me in person. I was struck by the uniqueness and his rare kind of personality and by the extremely rare nature of his soul.

When he came out onto the stage to perform, for a few minutes he looked around the audience before he was going to play. Just his appearance, his stature and his regard was already captivating, enchanting and I would say it completely bewitched all of us in the audience even before he started performing.

Every single sound played by Philippe perfectly expressed his uniqueness as a continuous and incredible revelation of imperceptible and unseen horizons before reflecting beauty, eternity and beatitude.

I had heard Phillip playing for a first time when he came back with a First Prize from the Queen Elisabeth Competition. If my memory serves me well, he was playing in honor of one of the greatest violonists of our generation, Henryk Szeryng, who  was visiting our Conservatory during his legendary concert tour of the USSR. He was playing in the Bolshoy Philarmonic Hall in Leningrad, which, by the way, had unique acoustics that were always admired by Herbert von Karajan.
He played at that concert, again if my memory is correct, Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) by Sarasate, the Chaconne by J.S.Bach and one of the movements from the 2nd Concerto by Paganini. Philippe’s interpretation of the Paganini rendered him legendary and one of a kind!

At that time, it was the unanimous opinion of the best-known violinists and  critics that nobody had ever interpreted this Concerto like Philippe, except, perhaps, for Paganini himself!

Listening to his playing, I recognized right away a one of a kind caliber of the greatest violinists of all times, who all of them were students of Leopol Auer: J.Heifetz, E.Zimbalist, M. Ellman, M.Poliakin and 6 others, and among them also Fritz Kreisler!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Their playing was as similar in their greatness as it was dissimilar in the inimitable quality of their sounds, musicality, phrasing and, most of all, the uniqueness of contents, countenance and beauty of their artistic expressions. If I may use the comparison, they were like ten Nightingales of ten different species singing so divinely that even they were not aware that they were singing!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So was Philippe as the 11th Nightingale,  belonging entirely to the Pléiade of greatest violinists of all times!!!!
After his concert for Henryk Szeryng , Szeryng himself came up to congratulate him, saying that Philippe was playing like Jascha Heifetz!!!
This type of appreciation by one of the greatest violinists of our generation, or the generation preceding ours, speaks for itself and goes beyond any reasoning and recognition!!

Just to get back to the beginning  of my homage to Philippe’s greatness, I would like to say that Philippe’s enigma, unfortunately, was not entirely understood nor was it decoded by his epoch due ,in my opinion,  to the “du-jamais-vu” genre of violinists who appeared suddenly among us like a falling star and disappeared! Only extremely intuitive, experienced, savvy and knowledgeable ears were capable of discerning in Philippe’s playing the rare and unprecedented quality of this interpreter!

Nevertheless, he was always admired, venerated  and taken as a criterion of violin playing in the first place by his very jealous co-disciples and best-known violinists of our generation and our time like David Oïstrakh, Leonid Kogan and his own master Misha Vaiman etc.etc.etc.

Fortunately for all of us, he left behind absolutely one of a kind and unforgettable recordings!

His Tzigane by Ravel is to this day considered an absolutely inimitable masterpiece of interpretation as is his Chaconne by J.S.Bach. Not to mention his Concerto by Beethoven, with its absolutely marvelous second movement; and the Sonata by F.Geminiani, the Concerto by Alban Berg, the First Concerto by Paganini and his entirely unique interpretation of the 2nd Concerto by Paganini, plus many, many more……………..

In turn, I am undoubtedly convinced that the time will come when Philippe’s enigma will be fully decoded and fully understood with the allocation to him of his respective place in violin history to which he proudly belongs.